Rock is Dead? Theory’s Tyler Connolly Says ‘Long Live Rock’ (Part 1)

It’s fashionable in some circles to declare rock as dead and buried. And while it’s true that other styles may have surpassed it sales-wise in the music marketplace, rock is very much alive. For evidence, one need only witness the sustained success of Theory of a Deadman. Formed nearly 25 years ago in Canada’s British Columbia Province, Theory soared to the top of the charts with their self-titled debut album.

Fronted by lead guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Tyler Connolly, the band took off and never looked back; in the band’s first 15 years, Theory placed every one of their albums in the Canadian Top Ten. Stateside success was a bit slower in coming, but once it did – with Theory’s third long player, 2008’s Scars & Souvenirs – there seemed to be no stopping the group. That record and the four albums that would follow each soared to the Top Ten on the U.S. Alternative Rock charts.

The group has landed a staggering 25 singles on the Mainstream Rock chart, with eight of those going Gold (500,000 units sold in the U.S.), Platinum (1 million units) or better. Along the way, Theory of a Deadman has filled arenas as an opening or headline act, in the process putting to rest any question as to whethere rock is alive or dead.

Yet when it comes to critical success, the band’s track record stands in sharp contrast to its sales figures. Critics haven’t always been as kind as fans; a cross-section of reviewers writing for Allmusic.com, for example, has awarded each of the band’s first seven albums anywhere from a maximum of three stars out of five (for their debut and 2017’s Wake Up Call) down to one star for 2011’s The Truth Is…

Fortunately, Tyler Connolly isn’t bothered by all that. He admits that on occasion the band’s management sends him copies of reviews. “But they’re all positive,” he laughs. “I don’t know if that’s [being] filtered for us,” he says, though his next comment makes it clear that he knows the score. “We aren’t a critically acclaimed band and never have been,” he concedes. “And at this point I think we’ve all accepted our fate.”

After decades within the machinery of the music business, Connolly has a clear sense of how things work. And while Theory has maintained a good working relationship with the band’s label Roadrunner Records (a division of the mighty Warner Music Group), he sees clouds on the horizon: not for rock itself, but for the industry.

The labels are kind of freaking out,” he observes, “because they’re losing control over something that they used to have complete control over.” He says that in today’s music scene, “the fans decide what a hit is, and in a lot of countries, radio is kind of dying.” It’s being replaced by streaming, he points out. And while that works out reasonably well for an established band like Theory (with a deep catalog of those seven albums, joined in mid-March by Dinosaur), it poses great challenges for newer, younger artists.

Playlisting and streaming are good if you have a fan base,” Connolly observes. “But I’m not sure what new bands are going to do; it’s going to be really tough.” While he seems fully committed to the future of his band, Connolly’s attitude about the prospects for the next wave of rockers is somewhat more pessimistic.

That dour mindset informs the band’s latest single, the hard-rocking title track from Dinosaur. Lyrics like “We’re all fucked, yeah, we can’t be saved,” and “Tonight we’re going out, going out like the dinosaur” suggest that even as the world is emerging from a global pandemic, Tyler Connolly doesn’t hold much hope for the future after all.

I tend to think that we as humans, more than ever, are quite cynical and pessimistic,” he says. “As much as we want to pretend we’re optimistic – ‘No, everything’s going to be wonderful!’ – I think that inside, we’re all kind of like, ‘This sucks. This is trash.’”

To be continued